Hunger Strike at Texas Detention Center Swells Into the Hundreds

This comes from the RH Reality Check Reporter

by Kanya D’Almeida, Race and Justice Reporter, RH Reality Check

November 2, 2015

The number of hunger strikers at a Texas immigrant detention facility has swelled to almost 500 since last Wednesday, an Austin-based advocacy group revealed in a phone call with RH Reality Check.

When news of the protest action broke on October 28, about 27 women at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, 35 miles east of Austin, were reportedly refusing their meals.

While grievances ranged from abusive treatment by guards to a lack of medical care, the women, hailing primarily from Central America, were unanimous in their one demand: immediate release.

The strike snowballed over the weekend, according to Grassroots Leadership, an organization that forms part of a larger umbrella group known as Texans United for Families (TUFF).

Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership, told RH Reality Check that one striker who contacted the organization Sunday night to brief them on the situation used the Spanish expression “casi todo,” suggesting that nearly all of the roughly 500 detainees are now observing the strike.

She said that officials at Hutto, a women’s-only for-profit facility run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) under an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have since Wednesday been retaliating against the strikers, and this weekend isolated one woman who has played a leading role in the action by placing her in solitary confinement.

In a phone call with RH Reality Check, a press officer for the facility said, “There is no hunger strike going on … There was never anybody not eating, that is false information.” A statement from ICE reiterated: “ICE takes the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care very seriously and we continue to monitor the situation. Currently, no one at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center was identified as being on a hunger strike or refusing to eat.”

Scans of handwritten letters by the first wave of strikers were posted to the organization’s website last week, together with a petition to “Support the #Hutto27.”

These letters reveal that a vast majority of the women are asylum seekers from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala fleeing situations of severe violence in their home countries. Other detainees hail from Nicaragua, Brazil, Mexico, and even Europe.

One woman wrote, “It gives me great pleasure to participate in this hunger strike … I’m dying of desperation from this injustice, from this cruelty.”

Parker said part of the impetus for the action came from those calling themselves “mujeres de segunda” or “women of second entry,” who are entering the United States as asylum seekers for a second time and who claim they have been unfairly denied bond.

Other detainees are first-time or recent arrivals, while some have been detained for nearly two years. A primary concern among many has been the fate of their children—specifically young daughters—both in the United States and back in their home countries.

In a letter dated October 24, Elda, a Guatemalan detainee, wrote: “I have two young daughters. They are depressed and very sad that I am not with them.” She is extremely afraid of what deportation would mean for her and her family, while several others fear that deportation would mean their “assured death” upon return.

Parker added that since nearly all the women in the center are hunger-striking, any deportation should be seen as retaliation, and an attempt to “disappear evidence.”

“We want to see deportations halted until the women’s demands are met,” she said.

While day-to-day management of Hutto has typically been in the hands of CCA employees, ICE officials have been on the scene since Wednesday, questioning women and demanding that they resume their meals, Parker said.

On the same day the women launched their hunger strike, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) released amajor report warning of a “looming refugee crisis” in the Americas, fueled largely by thousands of women fleeing violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA): Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

UNHCR officials attributed the exodus to a proliferation of organized criminal armed groups, many with transnational reach, which has resulted in an increase in gender-based violence and homicide.

According to data from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, female homicide rates in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras rank first, third, and seventh, respectively, on a global index.

The 160 women interviewed for the report, which included detainees at Hutto, described personally surviving rape, extortion, and death threats, or witnessing or being threatened with the disappearance of their children and other family members. Many said local authorities were either unable or unwilling to ensure their safety.

 

Read the rest here.

Update: Prisoners’ Hunger Strike Suspended; Solidarity and Action Needed for Struggle to Come

An update from the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Samidoun, on the hunger strike that was supposed to take place from today:

Header from SamidounPalestinian prisoners in Israeli jails announced today, 11 August, that hundreds of prisoners affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who had planned to launch a hunger strike today, are suspending their planned strike after a concession from Israeli prison administration cancelling the order banning family visits for imprisoned Palestinian leader and PFLP General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat. The Palestinian prisoners are still calling for action – click here to find out what you can do.

The PFLP prisoners issued a statement noting that the struggle of the prisoners is far from over, and that they along with all other Palestinian factions inside the prison are engaged in united planning for the next steps of struggle:

Following the announcement of the planned hunger strike to begin today, the Israeli Prison Service was forced to rescind the order prohibiting imprisoned PFLP General Secretary, Comrade Ahmad Sa’adat from family visits. The first visit with his family will take place this month and the next in September, and there is a final agreement with the comrades in the PFLP’s prison branch to cancel this order on a permanent basis.

The PFLP branch in the prisons of the occupation emphasizes that the struggle inside the prisons is continuing and escalating, and that it is working in coordination with all Palestinian factions in the prisons, uniting all Palestinian prisoners, for the next stages of struggle to secure all of our demands and improve the circumstances of life for the prisoners. Therefore, the prison branch of the PFLP has suspended its decision to go on hunger strike as one faction, and will join together with the entire Palestinian prisoners’ national movement in the protest steps to come.

The struggle of Palestinian prisoners remains critical and international action is necessary. This concession was only attained because of the willingness of Palestinian prisoners to put their bodies on the line to confront injustice, and because of the eyes of the Palestinian people and the world on the struggle of the prisoners. Today, the united prisoners’ movement is escalating its struggle and calling for action, solidarity organizing and escalation of boycott to achieve its goals.

In particular, the situation of Palestinian lawyer and hunger striker, Muhammad Allan, 31, held in administrative detention without charge or trial since November 2014 is particularly critical and demands international action and solidarity. Allan has been on hunger strike for 56 days and is shackled hand and foot to his hospital bed in Barzilai hospital. He is being threatened with force-feeding – cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment amounting to torture – and becoming the first victim of the new force-feeding law passed by the Knesset last month, condemned by UN officials, the Israeli Medical Association, the World Health Organization and human rights advocates. His medical situation is dire, and international action can help to not only save his life but gain his freedom and that of his fellow over 5750 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network notes that Palestinian prisoners’ organizations are working together to determine the next phase of struggle. The Israeli prison administration and occupation forces exert great efforts to divide Palestinian prisoners and their demands from one another by targeting particular Palestinian political factions – first one, then another. In light of this situation, Palestinian prisoners know that united action is always the most effective means of struggle. We also must stay on high alert, as we – and the prisoners’ movement – are well aware that Israeli occupation forces routinely violate the agreements obtained through Palestinian prisoners’ struggle. Sudden changes in the situation and the dynamics inside the prisons due to Israeli attacks and violations of prisoners’ rights should be expected – and we must be prepared to mobilize and respond accordingly.

The Palestinian prisoners’ movement is acutely aware of its conditions within the prisons of the occupation; every day, they live in confrontation with an occupier which routinely violates their rights, and yet they continue to organize and struggle. Our task must be not only to amplify their voice but to build a loud, broad and strong movement to achieve the just demands of the prisoners; their liberation; and the cause for which they struggle – the liberation of Palestine.

Take Action today for Palestinian prisoners!

Read here how you can help.

Update: Take Action: Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to strike Tuesday

This comes from the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network (Samidoun):

UPDATE, 10 August: There are now reports that the Palestinian prisoners in Nafha and Ramon prisons have suspended their hunger strike for two weeks. 32 prisoners are continuing to conduct their hunger strike. The Palestinian Prisoners Society is quoted as saying that there is an agreement to return prisoners in Nafha to their sections, and that the strike will resume if the Israeli prison administration does not comply within two weeks. The call for hunger strike on Tuesday, 11 August remains in place.

As of Sunday, 9 August there were 180 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails on open hunger strike and hundreds more set to begin striking on Tuesday, 11 August. The wave of strikes was initiated after Israeli special forces attacked Palestinian prisoners in Nafha, injuring 30 prisoners in a violent nighttime raid, including Ahmad Sa’adat, Palestinian political leader and General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Groups of prisoners were isolated and transferred from Nafha and Palestinian prisoners launched a campaign of resistance.

TAKE ACTION: Click here for action steps to support Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike.

120 prisoners in Nafha affiliated with Fateh launched a hunger strike on Thursday, 6 August, demanding an end to isolation and solitary confinement, the return of transferred prisoners, an end to the denial of family visits, canteen (prison commissary) access and an end to the raids on prisoners. On 9 August, 32 prisoners affiliated with Islamic Jihad launched a hunger strike as several dozen more Fateh prisoners in Ramon and Eshel prisons joined the strike. The prisoners of Islamic Jihad announced that they were dissolving their leadership as of Monday 10 August – thus leaving no official representatives to negotiate with Israeli prison administration, and demanded the end of the isolation of prisoner Nahar Saadi, the end of the force-feeding law and in particular its use against Muhammad Allan, and expressed their support for the striking Fateh prisoners and their demands.

These open hunger strikes come in addition to several individual hunger strikes, including that ofMuhammad Allan, 31, a Palestinian lawyer held without charge or trial in administrative detention who has been on hunger strike for over 55 days, is in a severe medical emergency situation and is being threatened with force-feeding by the Israeli military under the new force-feeding law that has been condemned by UN representatives, the Israeli Medical Association and human rights advocates. Click here to take action on Muhammad Allan’s case!

The prisoners affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in all Israeli prisons announced on 9 August that their escalation to open hunger strike – earlier announced for Sunday and then delayed until Wednesday – will now take place on Tuesday. Ahmad Sa’adat, for whom the Israeli prison service had promised to end the denial of family visits, was instead ordered to an additional three-month prohibition on family visits on Sunday, even as a one-month ban on family visits was imposed on all Palestinian prisoners in the Negev prison.

The leftist party’s prison branch issued the following statement:

The prison branch of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, headed by national leader Ahmad Sa’adat, will launch an open hunger strike on Tuesday [11 August], following a stalemate in the negotiations with the Prison administration, brought about by the Prison Service’s intransigence in response to the just demands of the prisoners. In addition, today a military order was issued extending the security prohibition against leader Sa’adat, denying him family visits for an additional three months.

The prison branch confirmed that the Front’s prisoners, led by Sa’adat, have decided to fight a long and difficult battle with the occupation which is not conditioned by any covenants or undertakings, after exhausting all options in order to impel the occupier to respond to the demands of the prisoners.

The PFLP prisoners called on the masses of our people, the Arab and Muslim communities and countries, and the forces of justice and freedom in the world to provide the widest support and solidarity to the struggle of the prisoners’ national movement in the battles of confrontation and steadfastness they are waging around the clock against the prison and intelligence officials of the occupation. The breadth and depth of solidarity gives prisoners inspiration to continue the struggle until their rights are achieved in full.

The PFLP prisoners have put forward their demands:

  • allowing family visits for prisoners who have been, until now, prohibited from such visits with their loved ones, including Palestinian political leader Ahmad Sa’adat;
  • providing necessary and adequate medical care to sick prisoners;
  • ending the policy of administrative detentions;
  • improving the living conditions inside the prisons;
  • prohibiting invasions and raids by special units of the Zionist forces, including the Metsada unit, on the sections and cells of the prisoners.

Last Menard hunger striker calls for a new generation of warriors

From the SF Bay View:
Last Menard hunger striker calls for a new generation of warriors

By Joseph Tillman, June 25, 2014

I participated in the Menard hunger strike and I actually was the last to come off. The hardest part was not not eating but having to notify my loved ones that I may die while trying to make them understand this is worth my life.

Menard hunger strikers still fighting to be treated like human beings

Reblogged from: SF Bay View, April 12, 2014

Written By Jesus Vega

I am currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois and housed in the high security unit in administrative detention. I was one of the inmates who was on hunger strike over harsh living conditions and denial of our due process, which is still going on.

No! Things haven’t changed after the hunger strike was over. I spent 29 days on hunger strike and three days on a water strike. I couldn’t go any longer.
I tried my best with the other brothers to get these harsh conditions fixed or changed. But nothing has been done.

There was a lot of reasons why we went on hunger strike, but some of the main reasons were the denial of our due process where they place us in administrative detention in the high security unit and refuse to tell us why, don’t let us know how long we will be in here and how to get out without becoming a snitch, plus having to endure the harsh conditions, meaning living without hot water in the cell and no heat during the cold weather months plus some other things.

But we’ve only gotten hot water, and we still are in a fight to be treated like a human being. Just know we haven’t quit our fight.

Send our brother some love and light: Jesus Vega, R21806, Menard CC, P.O. Box 1000, Menard, IL 62259.

Update from Menard hunger strikers: We need outside support, force feeding threatened

Reblogged from: SF Bay View
Jan. 21, 2014

The following information is drawn from letters received from prisoners in Administrative Detention at Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois, and compiled by attorney Alice Lynd.

Jan. 21, 2014 – On Jan. 15, 2014, approximately 25 prisoners in Administrative Detention at Menard Correctional Center went on hunger strike. Officers shook down their cells and took any food they found. The hunger strikers were sent to see medical staff and charged $5 for medical treatment.

On the way back from seeing medical staff, one prisoner (said to be Armando Valazquez) was pushed onto the stairs while in handcuffs by two officers. Those officers then kicked and stomped on his back, picked him up and then slammed his face into the plexiglass window on a door. One officer was sent home early that day. Prisoner Velazquez was moved to the Health Care Unit and the prisoners have not seen him since.

The hunger strikers have been told the prison administration is working on obtaining a preliminary injunction to force feed them. They expect to continue the hunger strike even if they are force fed.

“We need as much outside support as possible,” the prisoners say.

Please call or email:

Attorney Alice Lynd can be reached at salynd @ aol.com.

Menard prisoners’ demands

In a letter to Illinois Department of Corrections Director Salvador A. Godinez, Alan Mills of Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago writes that prisoners formerly housed at Tamms and now in Administrative Detention at Menard in the High Security Unit, or HSU, “have contacted our office regarding both the process by which they were placed in this unit and the conditions of their confinement in the unit.

“They have advised us that due to the lack of response from anyone within the Department regarding their informal complaints and formal grievances they will begin an indefinite hunger strike today, Jan. 15.

“The men have forwarded the following demands to us in the hopes that we can facilitate resolution of the issues:

  1. A hearing upon arrival and rationale for placement, as well as the written rules and regulations regarding their classification;
  2. Quarterly meaningful reviews of continued placement;
  3. Timely written responses to grievances in compliance with the departmental directives;
  4. The ability to have reasonable access to cleaning supplies for their personal cells;
  5. The common areas to be cleaned and sanitized (i.e., showers) and the vermin and rodent infestation eliminated;
  6. Adequate heat and hot water in cells and common areas;
  7. The ability to purchase basic commissary items (i.e., thermal clothing, shoes etc.), pursuant to departmental regulations;
  8. Access to individual razors and nail clippers held by departmental staff;
  9. Timely addressed medical treatment (i.e., physical, mental and dental ailments); and
  10. Adequate access to legal property boxes and the law library.”

Alan Mills can be reached at Uptown People’s Law Center, 4415 North Sheridan, Chicago IL 60640, (775) 769-1411, www.uplcchicago.org.

Illinois prisoners in Menard High Security Unit plan to begin hunger strike Jan. 15

Reblogged from: SF Bay View
by Staughton Lynd 
Jan. 14, 2014

The following information is based on numerous letters from prisoners in the High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois written in December 2013. These prisoners expect to go on hunger strike on Jan. 15, 2014, due to their placement and retention in severe isolation, under inhumane living conditions, without notice, reasons or hearing. This will be a peaceful protest.
Retaliation can be expected. These men ask for our support and action. And they ask us to spread the word.

The IDOC website says, “Menard Correctional Center was established on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1878. … Menard is the state’s largest maximum security adult male facility.”

After the Tamms Correctional Center was closed in January 2013, several High Security Units have been opened in other prisons throughout Illinois. The High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center is one of several such units housing prisoners in administrative detention who were in Tamms or who have filed grievances or complaints and others who would not have met the criteria for transfer to Tamms.


The men were transferred to Menard and continue to be kept in the High Security Unit without any notice, reasons or hearing. Prisoners who were transferred without so much as a ticket are being forced to complete a nine month three phase program – originally Tamms’ stepdown program – to earn back privileges they did nothing to lose.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has been unable to locate any records responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request for any administrative directives that deal with the “phase program.” The Menard rule book says that administrative detention is a non-disciplinary form of segregation from the general population that is reviewed every 90 days by the warden. However, the phase program is nine months. Therefore, no one is being considered for release until at least nine months after entering the system.
The 90-day review is supposed to be a review where release is considered. Instead, it is only a hearing where the prisoner is not present, and its only purpose is to determine if he should move from one phase to the next. To date, nobody has been released after the nine months. No notices are being given after any of these alleged hearings, and no basis for decision of continued placement is given either.

These prisoners expect to go on hunger strike on Jan. 15, 2014, due to their placement and retention in severe isolation, under inhumane living conditions, without notice, reasons or hearing. This will be a peaceful protest.

Prisoners have been filing grievances asking for uniform written policies that provide for constitutionally adequate notice of why an inmate is being placed in administrative detention and periodic review in the form of informal hearings that allow the prisoner to refute the alleged reasons for placement and retention in administrative detention.
Prisoners say that their conditions of confinement are deplorable. According to prisoners, conditions in the High Security Unit include
  • severe isolation without any mental health evaluation or treatment;
  • uncleanliness, rodent infestation and lack of any cleaning supplies to clean cells – no disinfectants, no toilet brushes;
  • no written policies requiring the daily sweeping and mopping of the wings;
  • lack of heat in the cells and only one small, thin blanket;
  • showers are moldy and often cold;
  • no hot water in the cells to wash up or clean eating utensils;
  • unauthorized deviation from the statewide menu, low calorie intake has prisoners losing weight;
  • not issued individual coats, have to share smelly coats with numerous men;
  • access to their legal materials limited to approximately once a month, delays in receiving legal mail;
  • no educational opportunities even though non-disciplinary prisoners should have the same access to education as the general population.
Many prisoners in the Menard High Security Unit are planning to turn in emergency grievances as well as begin a hunger strike on the morning of Jan. 15, 2014. They expect retaliation, possibly including beatings of inmates who are regarded as troublemakers.

Retaliation can be expected. These men ask for our support and action. And they ask us to spread the word.

How you can help

Prisoners in the High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center ask you to make phone calls to the warden, the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the governor on Jan. 15, 16 and 17, 2014, to check on their conditions, demands, and welfare. Please call:
Staughton Lynd, attorney, professor, historian, author, playwright, and civil rights and peace activist, can be reached at salynd@aol.com.